If You Give a Friend Some Rhubarb

A delicious, local strawberry-rhubarb pie
A delicious, local strawberry-rhubarb pie

You might make some pie or tarts or compote together and have a great time eating super locally. I got a phone call from a neighbor one afternoon last week asking “Hey I’m at my parents’ house and there’s a ton of rhubarb in the garden and they won’t be back for four more weeks, you think it’ll keep until then?” I didn’t think it would so I suggested she harvest some and cook it up. “Uh, what do you do with this stuff?” was the response. My thoughts jumped to strawberry rhubarb pie and since I had about eight pounds of strawberries in the fridge that we had just picked at Jones Farm in Shelton, I offered a pie baking lesson at my house plus strawberries in exchange for the rhubarb.

Winds up the rhubarb is wild, imported from Canada last year. Her parents own some property up there and it was growing wild in a marshy area. Don’t ask me how they got it through customs but here it is thriving in a soggy backyard garden in Fairfield County. And this is big, bright, beautiful, unblemished rhubarb.

Starting a baking session at 4:30 with four boys between the ages of 3 and 10 is not advisable. Luckily I had the foresight to make the crusts ahead so we JUST had to prepare the filling, assemble and bake. That was between pleas to help (which we gave in to), demands for snacks (which required running across the street in the pouring rain to retrieve apples) and various and sundry little boy shenanigans (think light sabers). It’s a wonder we made anything, but we did, and they came out great.

I wanted to share the pie recipe because it’s pretty simple yet very delicious. This crust is the very one I learned to make in cooking school; known as pate brisee, it is classic French pie and tart crust. Trust me, you can make it in 5 minutes in the food processor. Buy good butter – unsalted organic or Plugra, which Trader Joe’s carries, and keep all your ingredients very cold.

Classic French Pastry Crust (Pate Brisee)

yield: two 9″ pie crusts

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, plus additional flour as needed for pastry board and pin
  • 1 tsp. salt (not Kosher)
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1 C (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1″ pieces (kept refrigerated)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup ice water

Preparation:

  1. In a food processor, place the flour, salt, and sugar and process until combined.  Add the butter, coat with flour by tossing with the end of a dull knife, and process with pulses until the mixture resembles coarse meal (about 15 seconds).
  2. Pour 1/4 cup ice water in a slow, steady stream through the feed tube until the dough just holds together when pinched.  If you notice that some flour/butter mixture at the bottom of the work bowl is not being incorporated, stop processor and remove lid so you can turn it a few times with a rubber spatula. Add remaining water, if necessary (I had to use 1/2 cup).  Do not process more than 30 seconds.
  3. Turn dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap and use the wrap to help gather it into a ball.  Divide the dough into two equal pieces, flatten each portion into a disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes to one hour before using.  This will chill the butter and allow the gluten in the flour to relax.

Prepare the filling while the dough chills.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie or Tart Filling

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. fresh rhubarb chopped into 1/4 inch pieces, stalks only (leaves are toxic)
  • 1 lb. washed, hulled, and sliced strawberries (in 1/2 inch pieces)
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • ¼ C minute tapioca (available in supermarkets)
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 lightly beaten egg white

Filling Preparation:

  • Mix together the rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, tapioca, zest and juice of lemon, cinnamon, and vanilla in a large bowl and let sit for 15 minutes while you roll out the crust. This will give the tapioca a chance to become moistened with the fruit juices that flow from the addition of sugar.

Preheat Oven to 425 degrees Farenheit

Assembly:

  1. Once the pastry has chilled for at least 30 minutes, remove the two disks of pastry from the refrigerator and let sit 5-10 minutes to warm a bit so they don’t crack upon being rolled out.  On a lightly floured surface, roll one disk out thin enough to line your pie plate.  Always start from the middle with the rolling pin and lift and turn as your roll to ensure a round shape and make sure it isn’t sticking. Roll prepared crust onto rolling pin, dust off excess flour with a pastry brush and carefully place into pie plate, gently pressing in to place. Trim any excess dough even with pie plate using a paring knife.
  2. Fill the bottom crust with well stirred filling. Roll out second disk large enough to fit on top, roll onto pin, dust off excess flour and carefully place on top. Trim dough to within 3/4 inch of pie plate, fold top crust under bottom crust so both are even with the edge. Seal by pressing together top and bottom and crimping with a fork or with your fingers into the classic triangle pattern. Vent crust in four places using a paring knife. Glaze with egg white.
  3. Place in the refrigerator for 5-10 minutes to firm up the pastry before baking. You want very cold butter to get a flaky crust.

Baking:

  1. Place well chilled pie onto a lined baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes.  Lower to 375 degrees and bake another 45 minutes or until the filling begins to bubble from the vents.
  2. Let cool on a wire rack completely before eating so it can set up. Refrigerate until ready to serve. The pie can be warmed in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes.
  3. Serve alone or with freshly whipped cream.

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